Traveling more than 8,000 miles, Ashita Bhatnagar ’18 arrived at Valparaiso University two years ago sight unseen to embark on what has proven to be a journey full of challenges and growth both academically and personally. Not one to sit idle, Ashita has immersed herself in the community both inside and outside the classroom, combining a rigorous academic schedule with active extracurricular engagement.

“From the moment I arrived on campus, I have been inspired,” says Ashita. “I have never felt more engaged or active. My brain is constantly at work, and I have discovered I have purpose.”

With more than 700 international students, Valpo draws students from diverse backgrounds who flourish here for a multitude of reasons. Ashita attended an International Baccalaureate high school in India, and her only knowledge of Valpo was shared by her brother, Eshaan Bhatnagar ’17, who started his Valpo journey just one year prior as an engineering major. While Eshaan guided Ashita, impressing upon her the significance of the Valpo experience, Ashita has been the true inspiration.

“Ashita and I have been together since she was born — the same preschool, the same elementary school, the same boarding school, and now the same college,” says Eshaan. “I’ve watched her grow up from the time she took her first steps. However, it wasn’t until last year that I saw the woman she has become. It was only at Valpo that I noticed the leader she has become, the dedicated student she has become, and most importantly the confident individual she is now. Because of Ashita, who spends her days studying, I find myself motivated to work hard, spending hours in the library. I couldn’t be happier or more proud to call Ashita my sister.”

As a Christ College — The Honors College student and biology and psychology major with her eyes set on a chemistry as a third major, Ashita is fully engaged academically with hopes to attend medical school upon graduation. However, the transition into college was not a seamless one for Ashita, challenged with adapting to a new country and culture. Through the inclusive environment of Christ College, where open-mindedness is fostered, Ashita found comfort in exploring different religions and cultures and being afforded the opportunity to bring her own culture to the table.

“Often times, people have preconceived notions about those of differing cultural backgrounds. At Valpo, I have found people actually want to know my story,” says Ashita. “It is amazing to be fully embraced by a community. Being in a community where people respect you and want to learn more about you is something that reassured me about Valpo.”

In Christ College, Ashita has grown both intellectually and personally, approaching the challenges with the aid of faculty mentors. Initially she feared writing, but through one-on-one faculty interaction, her writing skills have “flourished,” and she is now en route to becoming a Christ College Scholar. The interdisciplinary nature of Christ College has forced Ashita to step outside the science spectrum, exposing her to new ideas. In her Word and Image class, she reignited her creative side, sparked a new interest in art, and now finds herself constantly analyzing her surroundings.

“I was delighted to have Ashita in my Word and Image class this past spring,” says Gretchen Buggeln, Ph.D., Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Chair in Christianity & the Arts and associate professor of art history and humanities. “Although Ashita’s academic focus is science, she gets everything she can out of her humanities courses by reading carefully, participating vigorously in class discussion, and being open to being challenged and changed by new ideas. Ashita approaches the world with her mind and all her senses wide open, and her enthusiasm energizes her classmates as well.”

This summer has found Ashita in the chemistry department, engaged in a 10-week research experience. Working alongside fellow students and faculty advisor Thomas Goyne, the research team is seeking to chemically synthesize a fluorescent amino acid. The goal is to understand how a protein works in a living cell. Ashita is one of an elite few who have worked with the Ultra-Performance Liquid Chromatography Instrument, which is used to analyze the products of the synthesis process. Through this research experience, Ashita has explored her capabilities, become more versatile, and discovered an unknown joy for research.

Prior to Valpo, Ashita described herself as being terrible at chemistry. She has been inspired by Valpo, pointing to her professors as the catalysts for her success. Ashita has grown more independent through innovative teaching styles such as the flip classroom, which requires the student to delve into the material on her or his own and apply that knowledge to problem-solving in class. Outside the classroom, Ashita has developed close connections with her professors, whose support, encouragement, and mentoring have aided her in uncovering her potential both academically and personally.

Similar to many Valpo students, Ashita is not only dedicated to academics, she is also committed to several extracurricular activities. She has been a member of both the Valparaiso International Student Association (VISA) and the Pre-Med Club since her freshman year and joined Gamma Phi Beta her sophomore year. Last year, she served as social chair of VISA and will be holding leadership positions in all three organizations next year, including vice president of VISA alongside her brother who was elected president.

“My time at Valpo has been characterized by marked social growth,” says Ashita. “I’ve grown as a person. Now, I see myself as a confident, independent woman ready to take on whatever life throws at me.”

Through VISA, she has expanded her group of friends to include students from around the world and discovered an inclusive platform where she can express herself and engage in dynamic cultural exchange. As a member of Gamma Phi Beta, she is involved in numerous service opportunities and is now part of an extensive network of alumnae. The focus of the sorority is on the empowerment of women, which is of particular interest to Ashita due to the remaining prevalence of abortion of girls in India. Ashita is committed to bringing the community together to build stronger, more confident women.

At Valpo, Ashita has gained a thorough understanding of herself and her capabilities and has been inspired into action in and outside the classroom. With two more years until graduation, she is determined to remain engaged. Ashita seeks to obtain three degrees and graduate summa cum laude, with the highest academic achievements. She is focused on recruitment for VISA, community service for the Pre-Med Club, and increasing awareness regarding Gamma Phi Beta.

“Valpo has always been my home away from home, but now it’s just become home for me,” says Ashita. “There is no place I find greater comfort, involvement, or inspiration.”

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